A couple months ago, we had soil (and all things wine) extraordinaire, Dave Bos, come out to our vineyards to talk dirty to us. He spoke with our staff on the value of high-quality soil, soil composition and how it affects our plant growth, grape development and ultimately, how much it matters for quality wine. It was very enlightening! Then last week, he was so kind to come out again to teach us about the actual plant growth itself, the lifecycle of vinifera grapes. We learned a ton and I wanted to share a recap of that here.
The health of our vines depends directly on the health of the soil. Our focus is on treating the soil with care so that it can provide solid vine growth. Healthy land means happier vines which translates to higher quality grapes. Each of our vines is handled individually 10-12 times per year, which means that they get a lot of personal attention. If we didn’t pay such close attention to our vines, they would naturally grow into a bushy mess of leaves and branches. Meticulous pruning helps the vines stay nice and organized with their energy focused on growing impeccable grapes.
The soil we have is sandy loam. Sandy loam is in between sand and silt in the soil texture triangle.
Sandy loam is porous, so it drains easily, which is important here due to the amount of rain we do get. The soil structure will and can change the growth of the vines. When combined with other healthy biodiverse strategies, the entire environment, which makes up the terroir, becomes energized to produce better quality grapes, that stand out in the wine. We believe it's one of the reasons that BHV produces outstanding wines year after year.
Grapevines are perennial plants, meaning that they grow in spring, bloom over summer, then die back over the winter months, and then repeats its cycle from its rootstock the following spring. I found this diagram of the yearly lifecycle of a grapevine from Wine Folly. I love it!
Depending on the weather, bud break here typically starts mid-June and this is where 100% of the vine is focused on growing. Then it will self-pollinate and flower where we will remove the leaves from the fruit zone to enhance direct sun exposure to the fruit, then fruit set (grapes) and then veraison (the grapes will change color and sweeten). Once veraison starts, 100% of the plant’s energy will move toward veraison and the vines themselves will quit growing. We are constantly pruning our vines (hedging, removing suckers, leafing) to keep the energy where it needs to be. We’ve had a cool and rainy season so far, so bud break was a bit behind schedule. But the good news is, veraison is what determines harvest, not bud break. So, fingers crossed for a long and hot fall!
Last night I participated in a Riesling Roundtable discussion put on by Michigan Wine Collaborative and joined by myself, Chateau Chantal, Fenn Valley Vineyards, Amoritas Vineyards and St. Julian Winery. It was an online conversation on Twitter talking all things Michigan Riesling and it was so fun! I thought I’d break down the conversation into our talking points and share them here.
Here’s what we discussed:
It’s cold hardy so it can survive in cold temperatures in Winter. It blooms late, like Pinot Noir, so it doesn’t get frosted if we get cool nights in Spring. It likes our cool growing region and historically it grows in similar climates throughout the world. Riesling does well in sandy, clay and gravel soil compositions, which is what we have – the proximity to water helps as well to regulate the temperature. Because Riesling likes to grow here, can be made into a wide variety of styles and gets a decent cropping year after year, it’s a great crop for farmers – environmentally and economically.
Riesling has transparency that reflects where it’s grown – there’s no hiding the terroir! What better way to show off Riesling than in Northern Michigan!
Acidity lays the foundation and balance of the wine and is more important than anything because it dictates how the wine will be. Our cool nights here slow down the ripeness of the grapes so we can keep the acidity longer (which is a good thing!).
A characteristic that shows particularly well in our Riesling wines is the floral spice. When tasting through the various Rieslings from different wineries last night, there were several people mentioning the spice that they detected in Old Mission Peninsula wines that wasn’t apparent in wine from Leelanau Peninsula. I just think that is so fascinating: the same style wine grown just a few miles away has a distinct flavor profile.
The stone fruit and aromatics are the fun and pretty side of Rieslings grown in this area.
A major challenge that we run into in the Tasting Room is people’s perception that all Rieslings are sweet. A lot of people are not aware that Riesling is the diamond of grapes, meaning it is multi-faceted. Currently, we have SIX Rieslings on our menu ranging from very dry to very sweet and everything in between, including a sparkling Riesling.
Another challenge is educating people on how well a Riesling can age. Because Rieslings are so bright and pretty when they are young, people love to drink them right away. But, if you don’t let some of your Rieslings age, you are missing out on a delicious experience. Over time, Riesling can show off a wide array of flavors. Few people get to enjoy an older Riesling because they are so enjoyable when they are young. Pulling library wines to show the full depth and complexity of different vintages of the same wine (called a vertical tasting) is where a Tasting Room can really educate and open the minds of the consumer.
Key Takeaway: Save your Rieslings, they are MAGICAL when they are older.
Our first Riesling plants were planted in 1991 and our first bottle was produced in 1994 (yes, it takes THAT LONG to get a bottle of wine). We were the second wave of Riesling being planted. The first in our area was Chateau Grand Traverse who started growing vinifera grapes in the 70’s.
Our Late Harvest style Rieslings (Late Harvest and Medium Sweet) are still the most popular across the board with distribution and in our Tasting Room, but the wine that is growing more and more in sales each year is our Medium Dry. Hopefully this means we are cracking the bias that all Riesling wines are sweet.
Our most awarded white wine is our Block II, which is our driest Riesling. Not only is it our most awarded white wine, it is one of the most awarded Rieslings in the whole country. Have you tried it yet?
Vineyards: We do not over grow our Riesling plants. We do VSP (vertical shoot positioning) and only have 8 shoots per plant. We purposely limit the number of clusters on each plant, ensuring every cluster is developed and well nourished. Each plant is touched 10-12 times per year – so we are constantly pruning and removing suckers to keep the plants in optimal health.
Cellar: In the cellar, we let the grapes and the vintage dictate the style that we are trying to make, rather than manipulating wine. We don’t add sugar to Rieslings, we only use natural sugars so it’s just the real quality flavor of the grape itself. Northern MI Riesling grapes are harvested in a cool climate, which means managing the pace of fermentation in the cellar is easier to control. This is VERY difficult in warm climate because the speed of which all of this can happen is within a week or two. We have months, it’s a slow and patient watch of the wines.
Tasting Room: Employee education is crucial. We are huge on education here and making sure that the staff understands the differences between all the Riesling styles, what pairs well with each and why, etc. Also, taking our guests through vertical tastings is one way to show the complexity of each style of Riesling.
All in all, this Riesling Roundtable discussion was a great experience! To follow along with the entire conversation and to learn more, follow #MIRiesling on Twitter. If you have any questions about these topics, feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You know what’s tough? Michigan winters...and do you know what’s even tougher? THIS WINTER! It’s been brutally cold, we’ve had to shovel nonstop, and the other day actual ice balls were pelting me in the face while skiing. #MichiganStrong
Winter blues are a real thing. They’re like Monday blues, except they last for like...5 months! I hear you, it’s cold and long and gray. But nothing will make you feel worse than laying on the couch every day and counting the minutes until May. You know the routine, go to work, come home, make dinner, Netflix. Weekends are similar but swap dinner for brunch and work with house cleaning. Rough city! Seriously, if you can survive winter in Michigan you can probably survive anything — but they don't have to be boring. Part of getting through the coldest, grayest months of the year is knowing how to make the most of them.
I’m here to give you a list of all things glorious about Traverse City winters. Because after all, you do live in MI, and winter comes every year, and stays for months, so you better just get used to it. Next time you’re sad or bored or feeling claustrophobic, go outside. Put on your winter coat (long underwear, gloves, hat, face mask, snow pants, wool socks, hand and feet warmers, waterproof boots...) and go outside! We live in a Winter Wonderland!
Photo Credit: Jolly Pumpkin
This weekly (can you say SUNDAY FUNDAY!) event happens every winter from end of December until middle of March and is so much fun, you might want to do it every single week. You and all your friends meet at Jolly Pumpkin before being shuttled by the always FUN Brew Bus team to Brys Estate for wine tasting at their gorgeous winery. Sit back and relax while making the tough decision of red, white or rosé (and you don’t have to choose, you can try all of them!) before strapping on your snow shoes and heading to the next stop, Bowers Harbor Vineyards. Enjoy another tasting here and warm up a bit in our heated pavilion and by the roaring fire at the outdoor fire pit. You like S’mores? We have them! And, don’t forget to try a Spirit Cider flavor! When you’re ready to burn off those calories you just drank, you’ll snowshoe back to Jolly Pumpkin for your final tasting, which can consist of wine, beer and/or spirits! Warm up in their cozy restaurant for some well-deserved lunch. Find out all Snowshoe Wine and Brew information and book your reservations here.
Photo Credit: Hop Lot
I LOVE Hop Lot! What a fun, chill way to spend happy hour or Saturday/Sunday. They have a wide selection of delicious craft brews and the ultimate Winter accessory...IGLOOS! You can reserve the igloos for free by the hour and they’re perfect for a birthday or anniversary celebration. Hop Lot is family-friendly, they have board games to play and sell S’more packs that you and the kids can use by the outdoor fire pits. I love stopping at Mawby on the way for a glass of sparkling wine, which is always beyond delish. And while I’m at it, I also love stopping at another one of my favorite Traverse City wineries, Rove Estate for a glass of red while gazing out of their windows at the glorious snow-covered vineyards. Sigh, so beautiful.
Photo Credit: Rove Estate
Skiing and snowboarding is SO FUN. I’ll say it again louder for the people in the back. Skiing IS SO FUN! We are lucky to be surrounded by so many hills to ski on, such as Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills (both perfect for kiddos), Shanty Creek Resorts, Boyne Highlands, Nub's Nob, and Crystal Mountain. Some of us from BHV take one of our days off, usually a Monday, and head out to ski. We brainstorm new ideas in the car on the way there and back, on the chairlifts and over a couple beers at lunch. I swear some of our best ideas have been hatched during Ski Mondays. It helps to get out of the office, get some exercise, and best of all, get some fresh perspective. Bonding with each other through healthy activities is good for the soul! Enjoy night skiing? You can join 106 KHQ at Schuss Mountain on Wednesday nights from 5pm - 9pm for only $10 per lift ticket!
One of my favorite places on Earth is Mission Point Lighthouse. It is BEAUTIFUL, peaceful and serene during all times of the year but there is just something extra special about it during the Winter. If you’re lucky you can get miles and miles of fresh tracks through the well-marked trail system. The trails are great for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Does your dog seem bored or depressed? They get cabin fever too! Bring them on your hike and I guarantee you’ll laugh the entire time watching them run and play in the fluffy snow. Shameless plug here: Did you know that Bowers Harbor Vineyards does a fundraiser every year for Mission Point Lighthouse? We are going on our 4th year of fundraising and have donated approximately $6100 so far.
Photo Credit: Michael Topp
I went tubing for my first time a few weeks ago and now I am wondering WHY OH WHY did I wait so long to do this? It is SO FUN (see a pattern here?)! It’s a perfect activity that the whole family can enjoy and there is a great lodge to warm up in afterwards with good food and hot cocoa (AKA toddies). The worst part about sledding is climbing back up the hill after going down, right? No need to do that while tubing, just grab onto the tow rope and ride up in your tube! You can have all this fun for only $10!
Have you been in this gorgeous trail system yet? If not, go ASAP! Picture 250 acres of rolling hills with views of three different lakes (Long, Fern and Page). The property is a combination of mesic northern hardwood forest, fields and riparian wetlands and is truly stunning. The trails are perfect for dogs, hiking and snowshoeing and many of the trails lead straight to the lake for easy ice-fishing access. To me, nature is peace and I absolutely love the serenity of this land, which is protected by The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.
The moral of my story is this...there are so many things to do in Winter and staying inside for 4-5 months straight isn’t good for anyone. Fresh air, fun and exercise are all needed for well-rounded lives and we are lucky to live in a place with so much to offer year-round!
Don’t live in Traverse City? Here’s a list of fun for you to enjoy too (but come up and visit us soon!):
What are your favorite Winter activities? Drop me a line and let me know at email@example.com
“Have you ever thought about doing the Introductory Sommelier Course?” Kristy nonchalantly tossed the question my way. Um, well, yes. I had thought about it once for approximately two seconds and immediately dismissed the idea. My oldest daughter has passed her Intro, her Certified, and her Advanced Sommelier exams, and I know the massive amounts of information she has assimilated. It’s daunting.
Still, the thought was intriguing. After all, I’m going on my twelfth year working at Bowers Harbor Vineyards; part-time, of course, but still. I’ve been around wine and the wine industry long enough that I’ve listened, learned, read, tasted, asked a lot of questions, and developed a good working knowledge of wine basics.
“OK,” I thought, “I’ll just check online and see when the next Intro course is offered in the Midwest.” The Court of Master Sommeliers makes the various levels of sommelier certification courses available throughout the country on a yearly basis. The trick is to find one that works with your geography and time schedule, and that isn’t already full. I pulled up the website, went to the calendar, and checked the schedule for the upcoming 12 months. There was only one Intro course scheduled for the Midwest, and it was – gulp – in Detroit 5 days hence. Seriously?? “Well”, I thought, “what do I have to lose? My pride? Three days of time? A small chunk of money? But it might be a great learning experience, even if I don’t pass.” So I pulled the trigger, registered, booked a hotel room, and headed home from work that evening ready to download the study manual. All 300 pages.
Five days later, I arrived at the hotel in Detroit around 7:30 a.m. for the first day of the course. There were about 90 other attendees, most from some segment of the beverage or hospitality industry, although the fellow sitting next to me was in the mortgage industry and simply wanted to put this on his resume. We were seated at long tables in a comfortable conference room, and after a brief introduction by the four Master Sommeliers teaching the course, the barrage of information began.
The next 10 hours were filled with viticulture and vinification theory; detailed explanation of and practice with the “deductive tasting method”; the basics of food and wine pairing; and then - FRANCE. France, in all its historical and viticultural glory, with exquisite attention to every detail of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and the Rhone Valley. The day ended with a discussion and demonstration of service, salesmanship, and hospitality. Then 90 people filed glaze-eyed out of the conference room to either drink themselves into oblivion or go back to their rooms to study. I studied.
The following day we returned for a second bombardment of information, this time covering Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, North America, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. And for good measure they completed the day with detailed instruction on fortified wines, beer, sake, cider and spirits. And in between all of those we had managed to do six different deductive tasting sessions, exploring 18 white wines and 18 red wines.
At the conclusion of Day Two, we were given a 70-question exam, with 45 minutes to complete it. I finished my exam in about 15 minutes, and then went to wait with others in the lobby outside the conference room. There was a lot of nervous dialogue and mild tension as we waited for everyone to complete the exam, and then another long wait before we were all invited back into the conference room. Glasses of champagne were distributed, and each person waited anxiously to hear their name called. Happily, I passed!
I walked away with not only a certificate and a pin, but a far greater understanding of and appreciation for what we do here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. There is a balance in the world of wine between complexity and simplicity that is striking. The simple is obvious: we grow grapes out of which we make wine. We’re farmers. The complexity is an everchanging landscape of factors; we have control over some of the factors. Others, not so much. The soil is there as the foundation of what we do. It can be nurtured, cultivated, or depleted depending on what we do. But we cannot change it, and we would do well to respect and understand its unique character and draw on its strengths. The region in which we farm is Northern Michigan, no more or less stunning than Burgundy or Bordeaux. And therein lies its beauty, and the reason we love what we do here.
There is no other place on earth that will ever make wine exactly like the wine we make here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. Similar, perhaps, of the same varietal with a similar chemical profile. But never quite like the grapes that bask in the morning sun along Bowers Harbor Road, lean toward the evening sunset in the Langley Vineyard, or get buffeted by the West wind howling through Block I. Those are the grapes gifted to us, and with which we seek to make wines that express the distinct character of this place. Those are the wines we love to share with family and friends. That is the challenge and the privilege of who we strive to be at Bowers Harbor Vineyards.
We are so excited that our 2016 Bowers Harbor Red has made its way into the recipes of Chef Sam at Fustini's new Fresh Take cafe! Chef Sam is so creative with his dishes and this new restaurant is no exception! We've partnered with Chef Sam and Fustini's in the past and love that we play a part in their Fresh Take menu. In fact, we are partnering on a wine dinner together coming up on Sept. 14th here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards! Fresh Take is a grab and go concept and they're committed to using the freshest ingredients possible, supporting tons of local farms.
Our Bowers Harbor Red is included in the sauce for their Braised Beef. Chef Sam was kind enough to give us the recipe for it. You'll need to tweak the amounts in proportion to how large a recipe you make, but we know the result will be amazing!
Cut beef into 1-2" cubes, season with salt and pepper and sear in oil until golden brown. Set aside. Add carrots, onion, garlic and sweat. Deglaze with wine. Add beef and carrots/onion/garlic mixture and spices to pan, add chicken stock (enough to almost entirely cover the beef) and cook in a 325 degree oven for 2-3 hours or until beef is tender and pulls apart easily. Chef Sam also recommends topping the braised beef with microgreens, mustard aioli and a pickled vegetable slaw. Pile high on top of your choice of crusty loaf bread and enjoy! I like to dip the sandwich in leftover au jus from the beef.
Next time you're in Downtown Traverse City, make sure to stop into Fresh Take for a delicious grab and go lunch!
There’s not a day that goes by that I am not grateful to live in such a beautiful part of the Earth. Grateful to have access to all of the activities that Lake Michigan and Traverse City have to offer, as well as have the opportunity to eat and drink my way through the best food and libations around. However, as grateful as I am for it, I still need to remind myself to actually take the time to enjoy so many of these wonderful things. It’s so easy to get caught up in everyday life, work, routine, etc. A friend of mine posted her ‘Summer Bucket List’ the other day and mentioned that she hadn’t even cracked the surface of what she wanted to do this summer and it got me thinking…neither have I! So, to hold myself accountable, here is my first blog in an upcoming series called "A Day in the Life".
It makes sense that I would start on Old Mission Peninsula because it has so much to offer. I had some friends visiting from downstate so it was a perfect excuse to escape responsibility and be a tourist.
We began our day here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards (surprise, surprise), playing cornhole (AKA bags) and life-size Jenga while enjoying snacks with our wine and Spirit Cider samples. I love the atmosphere here, the view is beautiful and it's a great place to kick back and enjoy life. The cherry salsa and tortilla chips went down WAY too fast. My friends absolutely loved the cider flights, with their favorites being Watermelon-Apple and Pineapple-Apple. I sipped on my favorite, the Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine. The bright green apple flavors and medium dry finish are right up my alley.
After BHV we ventured on to Brys Estates Vineyard & Winery for their famous "Frosé" (think rosé slushy) and their gorgeous patio setting. It’s the perfect place for a photo op. The Frosé is deliciously sweet and such a refreshing change of pace for the wineries out here. I could literally drink one every single day. Brys’ deck has to be one of the most peaceful places ever. Next time I visit, I’m going to take a ride on the Wine Wagon down to the Secret Garden.
Next, we headed to Mission Table for a plethora of delectable small plates. OMG the food they have you guys - it’s incredible. The flavors are interesting, fresh, local…you get the idea. Since there were six of us left at this point, and we all wanted to try everything, we just ordered a bunch of stuff and shared it all. Are you ready for the list (don’t judge us)? We had the flash-fried cauliflower, goat cheese/lamb ragout ravioli, wild mushroom risotto, short-rib tacos, beet salad, lamb rack AND the loma grain bowl. Jealous? Kidding aside, it was the best meal I’ve had in Traverse City in at least a year. Every single thing was perfection with the loma grain bowl and the lamb rack being my personal favorites. I’ll be back soon, like tomorrow.
And to end the night, we had a nightcap at The Boathouse. We ordered everything from the perfect Manhattan, full-bodied Cabernet, Tito’s/soda and a gin martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. Cocktail Heaven. As we sat and watched the sunset drop down behind the boats, I couldn’t help but feel, well, so dang lucky.
Whether you’re planning a trip north soon, or you live here and need a little stay-cation day, I highly suggest following my "Day in the Life" – Old Mission Peninsula style.
Stay tuned for my next adventure and if you do come visit, please let me know how you enjoyed it!
Mission Point Lighthouse Friends and Bowers Harbor Vineyards announce the release of their specially labeled 2018 Lighthouse Wine. Produced with Bowers Harbor Vineyards’ light and refreshing Pinot Grigio, a portion of the sales are dedicated to the preservation of the peninsula’s beautiful lighthouse.
For the third year, Mission Point Lighthouse Friends invited artists to submit their work to be featured on the specially labeled Pinot Grigio. Each April, the public is invited to Bowers Harbor Vineyards’ Tasting Room to help select the winning artwork. This year’s winner was Ruth Kitchen, whose beautiful watercolor is featured on these lovely bottles of wine.
To date, Bowers Harbor Vineyards has counted it a privilege to be able to donate over $4,300 to this beloved local landmark. The Lighthouse Pinot Grigio is available at Mission Point Lighthouse and at Bowers Harbor Vineyards; this wine is also available to ship. To view more of Ruth Kitchen’s work, go to her website. Click here to purchase the Lighthouse Label Pinot Grigio.
It's coming up on our favorite time of year here at BHV. Why, you ask? Pruning (yes, we really mean that!)! We spent February snowshoeing around, rolling through the vineyards, and checking on our vines. This time in the vines allowed us to fully see the quality of vine management from the previous vintage and make any necessary adjustments. It gave us a moment to pause and direct our attention to any new techniques that we may want to apply in the vineyard. It is also an opportune time to evaluate the position of the vines' shoots and anticipate changes we may want to make for not only the current growing season but for productivity of future vintages.
March is here, and for Michigan grape growers that means pruning is just around the corner. For us, grapevine pruning is an annual practice where nearly 90 percent of the previous year’s growth is removed. This is how we maintain the vine form and control the fruit and quality.
Spencer recently took me on a pruning lesson and it was so interesting to see what happens to, and how much labor goes into, each vine during pruning. If you take a look at the photos above you can see what the vine looked like before it was pruned, the middle stage and after it was finished. I threw the fourth photo in there just to show you what the vine looked like the very next day. One day it was a beautiful, bluebird day, and then the next, a complete whiteout...which is exactly why we start pruning early here! Shoot thinning early in the season is one way to overcome the crowding in these areas.
When pruning, we are trimming the vines to select our best two canes that we will then tie down on the weight-bearing wire, and count out to eight buds (ideal vine). We are looking for a pencil-sized diameter for the canes, not the bigger ones, sometimes referred to as bull wood. We want the pencil-size diameter because it has more vigor and the buds are tighter together.
With over 25 years experience, it's safe to say that Spencer is a fast pruner but just pruning one vine took about 20 minutes! It's pretty incredible to think that this happens by hand every year, on each and every one of our 18,000+ vines!
Stay tuned for the next edition of Designing the Vine!
Riesling is what I would consider to be the heart of our wine country. It is such a dynamic grape with an astonishing diversity of styles, pure fruit flavors and aromatic qualities. The biggest misconception about Riesling is that Rieslings are always sweet. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards we have FIVE different Riesling wines, and they range from crisp and dry to dessert-sweet.
Did you know that acid is a crucial component in a well-balanced Riesling?
Riesling is immediately pleasing, even to new wine drinkers. It’s ALL about the fresh fruit, with no oak or heavy tannins. Michigan wine country has been exploding year after year, and more wine lovers are not only visiting us, but finding out about our wines. While we have a lot of other wines to offer them in addition to Riesling, Riesling is what originally put us on the map. Some of the best Rieslings in the entire world come from our very own backyard.
Spencer Stegenga, Proprietor of Bowers Harbor Vineyards, was the first in the state of Michigan to grow and bottle single-vineyard Rieslings. A single-vineyard Riesling is a limited bottling of a Riesling harvested from only one distinct vineyard plot, rather than combining grapes harvested from a variety of locations. The beauty of a single-vineyard Riesling is its ability to reflect the characteristics of its unique terroir (the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate).
We did a Riesling staff training last week and I learned SO much! It was fascinating listening to our winemaker talk about the different techniques that went into the wines that he made. It was also very interesting to try wines from all over the world and taste the vast differences between them. Flavor profiles were all across the board, from petrol and ripe fruit to spicy and earthy.
Our winemaker, Bryan Ulbrich, was voted as one of the Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Winemakers by IntoWine.com, which is a website that offers expert wine recommendations, wine and food pairings and other industry-specific information from around the world.
The fact that we have five different Rieslings on our tasting menu, and that every other winery around also has at least one on their menu, and that they ALL taste different from the next, is (in my opinion) the coolest thing about this grape. Not only that, but Michigan Rieslings will taste completely different than Rieslings from California, Washington, Australia, Germany... you get the idea.
Every growing region has its own style and taste due to many localized factors such as: the climate, terroir, micro-climates of the vineyard, farming methods, cultural tastes and of course, the techniques of the individual winemakers. Even vineyards a few miles apart can have striking differences in style.
The 2016 Block II was the highest rated wine in a recent James Suckling report, at 93 points. This wine is very dry and really showcases what a single vineyard Riesling from our region can provide: acidity, minerality and spice. I love to serve Block II with buttery scallops or a sharp cheddar cheese.
2016 Smokey Hollow just took home Best of Class at the San Francisco Chronicle, which is the biggest wine competition for American wines. Hints of red apple and grapefruit on the nose while the palate mellows to suggest golden delicious apple and citrus zest. Smokey Hollow pairs perfectly with grilled salmon or lemon pepper chicken.
Hand-harvested and lovingly vinified, the grapes for our Medium Dry Riesling are sourced from some of the finest vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. Each vineyard, with its own unique terroir, offers something a bit different – some yielding tropical notes, some bursting with bright stone fruit aromas, some supplying gorgeous minerality and complex floral and stone aromatics. All those beautiful berries combine to make benchmark Old Mission Riesling.
I am so excited that this one is back in the tasting room! The 2017 vintage was just released this past week! Our most prolific Riesling, the Medium Sweet strikes a stunning balance between mouth-watering acidity and soft sweetness. You’ll be amazed at the initial flood of sugar on your palate, but just a moment later, it is whisked off by quintessential Old Mission acidity. This wine will wow Riesling connoisseurs and convert the staunchest of dry wine drinkers! Our winemaker said “this is the best vintage yet!”
Langley Late Harvest:
Late harvest Rieslings are among the most beloved of sweet white wines. Our Langley Late Harvest is grown on a beautiful west-facing slope dipping down toward Bowers Harbor. Not harvested until Nov. 1st, 2016, these grapes absorbed all those beautiful, sunny Northern Michigan afternoons and evenings and translated it into an ethereal, sun-dappled dessert-style wine. Novice drinkers will be drawn in by the smooth, sweet fruit-forward character, while aficionados will appreciate the fine balance of sugar and acidity, as well as this wine’s lovely age-ability.
The Riesling wines in this blog are listed (and pictured) in tasting order, dry to sweet:
There are even more reasons to love a Riesling. Because of its strong acid structure, Rieslings can age much longer than most other wines, white or red. Some of the best Rieslings can still be amazing after 100 years! That is longer than most people live! As the wine matures, the taste will drastically change. Young Rieslings are fruit-forward, very bright and fresh-tasting, but those characteristics soften and mellow after they’ve been bottled for 2-3 years. Then there can be a muted period for up to 10 years (the wine will still taste pleasant) before they gain even more complexity and depth. They become drier to the taste and develop a stronger expression of that inherent minerality, along with a unique petrol character.
Going forward, I’ll be thinking of Riesling as the diamond of grapes. It is so multi-faceted! At its simplest, Riesling is an easily accessible wine that can be enjoyed on its own or with food. But tasting a great Riesling can be extremely rewarding, both from a sensory and an intellectual perspective.
Last Wednesday, Wine Specialist Tom took our tasting room staff on a brix tour. We were able to walk around the vineyards and test the brix levels in the fruit, and also learn about pH levels and acid content. It was AMAZING learning about how much goes into the testing and preparation of the vines and grapes (AKA berries). The timing of harvest is key and thus testing the berries on key metrics is vital: sugar, acid, pH and phenolics, the latter having few metrics. On top of everything that needs to be measured, all grape varietals need to be picked at different times and each have their own ripening schedule.
Measuring the levels of brix in a berry is how you figure out the sugar content. The sugar level itself is measured with a refractometer. The juice is placed on the refractometer lens and light travels through the juice to refract on a degree scale. The thicker the juice the more it bends the light and the higher the brix that registers on the scale.
2) Acid content
Organic acids are responsible for the various levels of bitter tastes in the wine and have influence on the wine’s stability, color and pH. It is perhaps the most critical of the measured components. Don't forget...wine is an acidic beverage after all.
3) Level of pH
pH is the measure of a balance of active acidity in the juice and wine, so acid and pH are directly related. Generally white grapes are harvested at pH level of 3.1 – 3.3 and red grapes at 3.3 – 3.5. A pH meter is used to measure pH. Before this is done the grower and the winemaker can taste the berry and get a feel for the sugar and pH ripeness.
In addition to using the technical tools to measure the ripeness, you should also be tasting the fruit along the way.
All in all we had a lot of fun as a group testing the brix levels and learning about each varietal and what to do look for. Interested to learn more about this topic yourself? We offer private and group vineyard tours! Click here to learn more about what we offer and to sign up for one, they are a blast!
Hope you enjoyed this edition of Through the Vines and Behind the Scenes! If you missed Part One, you can catch up here and stay tuned for Part Three!
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